TUESDAY, Jan. 29 (HealthDay News) -- Being open about their sexual orientation offers health benefits for lesbians, gays and bisexuals, according to a new study.
"Coming out is no longer a matter of popular debate but a matter of public health," said study lead author Robert-Paul Juster, of the Centre for Studies on Human Stress at the University of Montreal's Louis H. Lafontaine Hospital.
He and his colleagues looked at 87 men and women, about age 25, who had different sexual orientations (gay, lesbian, bisexual or heterosexual) and found that lesbians, gays and bisexuals who were out to others had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol and fewer symptoms of anxiety, depression and burnout.
When a person is under chronic stress, cortisol contributes to "wear and tear" on a number of the body's systems. Taken together, this strain is called allostatic load, the study said.
"Our goals were to determine if the mental and physical health of lesbians, gay men and bisexuals differs from heterosexuals and, if so, whether being out of the closet makes a difference. We used measures of psychiatric symptoms, cortisol levels throughout the day, and a battery of over 20 biological markers to assess allostatic load," Juster said in a university news release.
The researchers found that, contrary to their expectations, gay and bisexual men had lower depressive symptoms and allostatic load levels than heterosexual men. And, "lesbians, gay men, and bisexuals who were out to family and friends had lower levels of psychiatric symptoms and lower morning cortisol levels than those who were still in the closet," Juster added.
The findings, published Jan. 29 in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, highlight the positive effect that self-acceptance and being open about their sexual orientation can have on the health and well-being of lesbians, gays and bisexuals, the study authors said.
But that may only be the case in open and tolerant societies.
"Coming out might only be beneficial for health when there are tolerant social policies that facilitate the disclosure process," Juster said. On the other hand, he added, societal intolerance during the disclosure process generates increased distress and contributes to mental and physical health problems.